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Egypt has used intelligence supplied by the French military to target and kill civilians suspected of smuggling, according to a report by investigative website Disclose, based on leaked documents.
French opposition deputies immediately called for a parliamentary committee to be set up to investigate the claims, while Defence Minister Florence Parly ordered her own investigation following the publication of the report on Sunday.
“Sirli”, the name of the mission between the two countries, was designed to provide intelligence on security threats along Egypt’s western border with Libya, Disclose said.
“In principle, the mission … consisted of searching the Western Desert to find possible terrorist threats coming from Libya,” using a light aircraft designed for surveillance and reconnaissance, it said.
“But very quickly, the (French) members of the team understand that the intelligence supplied to the Egyptians are used to kill civilians suspected of [carrying] contraband,” the website wrote.
French military staff regularly notified their superiors of the abuse of the information, it added.
Disclose based its report on hundreds of classified documents on the operation that were leaked to it.
According to those documents, the French military was implicated in at least 19 air attacks against civilians between 2016 and 2018.
Calls for inquiry
Operation Sirli began in February 2016 during the presidency of Francois Hollande.
It continued despite reservations expressed by both French military intelligence (DRM) and the air force about the way Egypt was using the intelligence, said Disclose.
One such note was addressed to Defence Minister Parly on January 22, 2019, before an official visit to Egypt by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Neither the French presidency nor the military responded to requests for comment from the journalists who carried out the investigation.
Within hours of the story’s publication, a statement from France’s defence ministry confirmed that the two countries had arrangements in the fields of intelligence and counterterrorism.
Citing security reasons, however, they were not prepared to say any more on the matter.
The statement said an investigation is being launched into the information revealed by Disclose.
The left-wing opposition France Unbowed party issued a statement calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the allegations.
The party called for Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who served as defence minister during the Hollande presidency, to appear before Parliament to respond to the allegations.
Although France has expressed a desire to refocus its arms exports on Europe, Egypt remains one of its main clients. Its sales there increased considerably when President el-Sisi took power in 2014. Since then, Egypt has bought France’s Rafale fighter aircraft, a frigate, four corvettes, and two Mistral helicopter carriers.
In December 2020, Macron awarded el-Sisi the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the highest honour France has to offer, provoking outrage from activists who have criticised his human rights record.